From the Yukon to Minnesota, Bohemian waxwings are developing a reputation for getting buzzed. In the Northern Hemisphere, winter berries are always a favorite among birds that don’t migrate south, and most usually know when to stop. But in separate recent examples -- in the Yukon in 2014, and in Gilbert, Minnesota, in 2018 -- there have been reports of waxwings bingeing on fermented berries and then flying erratically, sometimes coming into contact with buildings. In the Yukon, the Canadian territory’s Animal Health Unit even set up a so-called "drunk tank," putting woozy waxwings into hamster cages until they sober up, in order to prevent them from injuring themselves.
One more for the flight:
- Alcohol forms in berries when frost triggers a fermentation process. “Most birds likely just get a bit tipsy,” explained Yukon wildlife expert Meghan Larivee. “However, every now and then, some birds just overdo it.”
- The relatively large livers of waxwings and other species that need berries to get through the winter are thought to help the birds handle their alcohol intake. Young birds, though, may be more vulnerable.
- Some have suggested that climate change is making things worse. Early freezes in the fall, followed by thawing, make it possible for yeast to form and speed up the fermentation process.